A Landscape Designer Maximizes Space in Her Own Small Backyard


Designing a small backyard presents unique challenges, demanding creativity and precision to make every inch count. At Julie Orr Design, we thrive on transforming compact spaces into personalized outdoor sanctuaries. Join us on a journey through the meticulous planning and innovative solutions used to maximize space in Julie’s 820 square feet backyard, nestled in Santa Cruz, California.

Assessing The Site

Julie transformed her 820-square-foot backyard (approximately 37′ x 20′) into a serene oasis despite limited space. Despite the challenge of neighboring two-story homes affecting privacy, Julie ingeniously designed intimate pockets within the compact area. She tackled the slightly hilly site by incorporating retaining walls, ensuring optimal hardscape use while managing water migration. Julie’s innovative solutions regulated moisture for plant growth and conserved water, showcasing her horticultural expertise and sustainable design approach.

Defining the Goals

Crafting her backyard oasis centered on seamlessly integrating indoor and outdoor spaces, driving pivotal architectural decisions for a fluid transition between both realms. A strategic alteration replaced a window with a grand 10′ wide slider, harmonizing inside comfort with outdoor allure. An outdoor room strategically positioned near the dining and kitchen areas extended the living space, blurring home confines with outdoor beauty. The transformed space aimed to accommodate diverse zones for relaxation and entertainment: a pergola for shade, an al fresco dining area, a fire pit for cozy gatherings, and a hot tub for stargazing relaxation. Initially dreaming of a kids’ elevated playhouse, space constraints led to a pragmatic yet inviting turf area, optimizing the space for a versatile and functional outdoor retreat, meeting the evolving needs of both adults and children.

Creating Vertical Gardens

In Julie Orr’s small backyard, limited horizontal space was creatively met with a striking succulent wall. Inspired by salvaged treasures from the Alameda Flea Market, this vertical garden transformed walls into living art pieces while maximizing space. Julie’s fusion of creativity and sustainability repurposed salvaged finds, showcasing eco-conscious design. Low-maintenance succulents added natural beauty in diverse shapes and colors, creating a captivating mosaic and conserving ground space. Vertical gardens like this improve air quality, reduce noise, and support beneficial insects, demonstrating the potential of small vertical spaces to enhance greenery, aesthetics, and sustainability.

Multi-functional Furniture and Storage Solutions

At Julie Orr Design, we prioritize selecting versatile furniture and implementing smart storage solutions in compact backyards. This allows us to maximize functionality without compromising on aesthetics.
Practical Tips on Selecting Furniture
In tight spaces, versatile furniture is crucial. Choose pieces with dual functions, like benches offering storage, ottomans serving as both seating and tables, and collapsible furniture for convenient storage when not in use. Julie’s design ethos prioritizes adaptability alongside style.
The Prefab Kitchen Area Innovation
Julie’s backyard boasts a standout prefab kitchen area designed for more than just cooking. It cleverly doubles as storage space, using doors to store winter pillows and furniture covers without sacrificing the area’s aesthetic charm.

Incorporating Design Elements:

In small backyard design, each element shapes the overall ambiance. It’s crucial to integrate design elements reflecting your personal style for a space that feels uniquely yours. At Julie Orr Design, we value translating individual preferences into a cohesive and visually captivating outdoor retreat.

Reflecting Personal Style through Design
Your outdoor area should mirror your personality and lifestyle. Curating colors, textures, and materials that align with your taste is key. In Julie’s project, color schemes, especially versatile gray neutrals blending cool and warm tones, took center stage in outdoor design. Yet, to avoid monotony, incorporating varied textures became essential.

The Significance of Textures and Materials
Textures are pivotal in enhancing a small backyard’s visual charm. In Julie’s design, the terrazzo stone pattern on porcelain tiles was a stroke of genius, mimicking natural stone’s look while requiring minimal upkeep – ideal for busy lifestyles. This choice not only added depth but also offered a durable and visually striking hardscape. Readers can find additional insights into practical choices by following this link to low maintenance hardscapes.


Julie’s backyard exemplifies the fusion of creativity and functionality in small space design. Embracing the challenge led to a harmonious outdoor haven, proving that with meticulous planning and innovative design, every element can seamlessly coexist, creating a space that flows effortlessly. Ready to transform your small backyard into a personalized oasis? Contact Julie Orr Design for a consultation. Experience a collaborative design process that brings your vision to life while maximizing space, functionality, and aesthetic appeal. Visit our website Julie Orr Landscape Design or reach out to us at Email Julie Orr to embark on your design journey today.